Your Retirement Nest Egg: How to Spend It Wisely

Conditioning is a hard thing to change, especially when it comes to habits surrounding money. Many people spend much of their work life worrying about saving for retirement. They give up on certain indulgences and try to increase the amount they put into a retirement fund so that by the time they stop working, they have enough money to comfortably retire. But when that day finally comes, it’s not as easy as one would think to change course.

Transitioning from a saver to a spender can take some time. Here are some tips that may help you stay that course. (For related reading, see: How to Change Your Retirement Plan.)

A Plan During Retirement

Many people look to financial advisors to help them devise a plan for reaching retirement. But it’s just as important to make a financial plan for living through those retirement years. This is the stage of life you have been saving for, so having a plan for how to budget and splurge at this time in your life is key. You don’t want to run out of money too quickly, but you also don’t want to miss out on enjoying yourself.

"Planning for retirement really comes down to the math, says Michael Conway, CEO of Conway Wealth Group at Summit Financial Resources in Parsippany, N.J. "Too often, people looking to retire make assumptions about their future needs without really taking the time to check the numbers."

To start, you should consider what your annual living expenses are going to be throughout retirement. You need to be able to cover all the basics first. Then start to look at how much you can spend on optional costs such as charitable donations, vacations and hobbies. It’s also important to put some money aside for larger, one-time expenses that may arise, such as needing to buy a new car or unexpected healthcare costs.

By budgeting for all these expenses, you will be able to better control those nagging worries that your money may run out. Knowing that you are covered financially can do a lot to increase your feelings of happiness in retirement and reduce the level of stress in your life. (For related reading, see: 8 Ways Retirement Changed in the Last 20 Years.)

It's Not Just About Money

Having enough money to keep the lifestyle you have grown accustomed to in retirement is important. But only focusing on the money will not necessarily give you a fulfilling retirement. Accumulating wealth is a big part of the picture, but it’s not all of it. Part of the joy of having money is that it gives you the time and freedom to pursue the activities you actually enjoy doing. You don’t want to focus so much on the money that you forget to take time for the other things in life that matter to you and your family.

Some people value the security that money provides and being able to provide for their extended family, even after they have passed away. Others have always had dreams of traveling or pursuing an art form, while some look forward to becoming more involved in charitable work. Whichever is more important to you, you don’t want to forget to spend some time or money doing it in retirement. (For related reading, see: How to Save More for Your Retirement.)

How to Protect Your Legacy

If you plan on leaving money to your next of kin, you may want to ensure that your wealth will be used in a way that corresponds to your core values. You could do so by setting up a 529 college savings account for your grandchildren, if you value education, or by setting up an annual gift-giving account so that you can see your loved ones enjoy the benefits of your savings now while you are still around to watch. This will also ensure that the money you leave to loved ones won’t all be spent in one shot. 

You may also want to spend some time teaching your family members all that you have learned over the years about financial management. Share the good tips so they get passed along.

One note of caution: "Retirees should not jeopardize their own financial security to pursue the goals of other loved ones," says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., in Irvine, Calif. "Although the intention is coming from the purest of places, it potentially creates a significant hardship in the future."

Pay Yourself

It's just as important to keep to a budget when you are retired as it was when you were working. One way to do so is to set up a system of paying yourself a retirement check every month. Figure out the appropriate amount to draw down from your retirement portfolio based on how many years you need it to last and how much you have saved. Once you have figured out a monthly budget, try your best to stick to it.

Some retirees find that they have more than enough to live on, especially once Social Security checks start rolling in. If this is true, than you may want to save a portion each month toward a fun goal to treat yourself. Saving toward a goal is motivating and will give you something to look forward to.

The Bottom Line

The transition from working and saving to retiring and spending may be more difficult than you imagined. It’s a new phase in life, so make some plans for doing it well so you can enjoy the time more and stress less. And don't discount the value of getting professional advice from a financial advisor or planner. (For related reading, see: Fees and Your Retirement Savings: How to Pay Less.)